“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.”
—1 Cor 11:23-26 (KJV)
NO MORE SEDERS FOR ME
Tonight, Maundy Thursday, is the Supper of the Lord. Tomorrow night, Good Friday, will be the first night of Passover. Since my conversion to Catholicism some 25 years ago, I have not celebrated a seder, the ceremonial meal of Passover. Why? I agree with God’s command in Exodus 12:
“And the Lord said unto Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the passover: There shall no stranger eat thereof..A foreigner and an hired servant shall not eat thereof.”
—Exodus 12:43,45 (KJV)
I cannot try to shelter under the tents of both the New and the Old Covenants. Nevertheless, as a memento to my ethnicity and ancestry, I do follow some practices from old. I don’t partake of leavened bread during the 8 days of Passover (matzos can be made palatable as matzoh brei—matzoh in scrambled eggs—or with peanut butter). Like my maternal grandfather, I was a secular, not a religious Jew. (He ran away from home to Paris at the age of 16 because his father, the village rabbi, would not let him study calculus.) And we do have gefilte fish and borscht for dinner, the first night of Passover.¹
THE HOLY MASS INCORPORATES ELEMENTS OF THE SEDER
But let’s put aside all the culinary fluff. What’s important for me is how elements of the Seder are in the Holy Mass, links to a faith I now accept from a religion I never did totally accept:
- the blessing of the bread and wine (the Body and Blood of our Lord);
- the washing of hands of the celebrant (by the priest);
- the breaking of the bread by the celebrant (by the priest);
- the timelessness of the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the lamb—we are not remembering this, we are there.
The Jewish roots of the Mass and of the Catholic faith have been discussed extensively elsewhere (see here and here), so the examples above will be sufficient for this post. I want to go in a more personal direction.
THE LORD’S SUPPER
Several years after I came into the faith I lectored at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. As I read St. Paul’s words about the Eucharist, a full sense of timelessness, of the Last Supper here and now came upon me and I found it difficult to continue. My eyes filled with tears, my voice broke, and I ended in a whisper.
And so it is each year. I am at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, I realize that Christ was a Jew, the leader of the Passover Seder, and those at the table, his disciples were Jews, as am I. I have been saved from death by the sacrifice of the lamb; my bondage was to sin, and the lamb is the Lamb of God.
¹All this culinary stuff is ethnic, cultural, not religious. We knew Dutch Jews, Sephardic, who had escaped the Nazis. The wife, Marguerite, was discussing Seder meals and mentioned a special dish with rice. My wife (a cradle Catholic who knows more about Jewish customs and cuisine than either of my grandmothers did) asked “Isn’t rice forbidden for Passover?” Marguerite replied, “Oh, that must be an Ashkenazi custom. We don’t know much about those.” (The Ashkenazi are Eastern European Jews, and several social grades below the Sephardim, who stem as 1492 exiles from Spain.)